Have you ever had to take a break from practice due to illness and lost confidence in yourself as a competent clinician because of these circumstances? If so, would you be prepared to share your story and give advice, on a totally confidential basis, to a colleague who is now emerging from a dark tunnel, but feeling very nervous about getting back chairside? If the answer to both questions is “yes” I invite you to keep reading.
A couple of weeks back I received an email message from a colleague who had read an editorial of mine, written in 2008, about the experiences of a dentist with severe clinical depression. My recent correspondent described how he has been undergoing treatment for severe depression and that thankfully he is now seeing light at the end of the dark tunnel. His treatment has sidelined him from practising, but he is now hopeful of getting his professional career back on track. However, he has one major anxiety today – how can he regain confidence in his clinical skills to be able to get back chairside successfully, for many years to come.
In his message to me he posed the following question: “I am wondering if you have heard of programs in Canada or the U.S. which offer a supportive, non-judgemental environment for dentists to regain their confidence and refresh their skills following an extended medical leave. Any information you might have would be greatly appreciated.” He then added: “Having read your 2008 editorial, it means a great deal to know I’m not the first dentist to struggle with depression and an inability to work. If any colleagues can share how they returned to work or rebuilt their practices, I would greatly appreciate it. “
It is this last sentence written by our colleague that has prompted me to write today’s post in the hope that some readers who have walked this dark path before and emerged successfully from the trauma might be willing to give advice that can help a currently vulnerable colleague re-enter practice with confidence.
I believe there are an awful lot of dentists who are under amazing stress and feeling great pain. Dentists, of course, are very private and proud people, and the culture of our profession (just like medicine) doesn’t readily allow people to show vulnerability. Yet, recognizing our vulnerability is often the first step along the path to the understanding that helps us emerge from dark tunnels.
I pray that some of you will feel moved to hold out a helping hand. I also wish our colleague the best in his courageous quest to get back to caring for patients with confidence again as soon as possible.
At my request, our colleague has set up a special email address to allow generous caring dentists to reach out on a confidential basis. You can contact this dentist at: firstname.lastname@example.org.